Healthy Hens: Keeping your chickens healthy

Chickens are related to wild jungle birds and are prey animals (they’re hunted by other animals like foxes and badgers). Because of the dangers they’d face in the wild, chickens will try their best to hide any signs of illness so it can be tricky to tell when they have a health problem.

If you’re worried about one of your chickens, it’s always best to speak to your vet.

A health check for your chickens

It can be difficult to spot when your chickens need treatment so it’s important to get to know what’s normal for your birds. You can do this by watching them on a daily basis to get to know their habits and behaviour, as well as doing regular health checks.

Give your chickens a simple weekly examination, using the guidelines below:

Behaviour

  • A healthy hen will be busy and active, scratching the ground, feeding and drinking well (though not excessively) and preening her feathers.
  • A poorly hen will stand hunched and disinterested in her surroundings.
  • Be aware that hens don’t like cold, wet weather and this can make them hunch and look cheesed off.

Droppings 

  • These should be dark brown and firm with a white cap on them.
  • Blood in your hen’s droppings or diarrhoea can indicate a health problem.

The Comb 

  • The comb sits on top of the hen’s head and should be red, plump and glossy (this is usually a sign that the hen ready to lay eggs).
  • If the comb is pale, but plump it probably means your hen is healthy but isn’t laying eggs.
  • A dry, shrivelled or flaky comb is a sign of poor health.

The Keel 

  • This is the bone going down the centre of your bird’s chest. It should be well padded with flesh either side.
  • If the keel sticks out, it means your hen is thin and that can be a sign of health problems.
  • Don’t be fooled by a nice set of feathers, they can easily disguise a thin bird so get hands on!

The Vent 

  • This is where the eggs come out (it is also her bottom!).
  • If it’s a round ‘hole’ this means the hen isn’t laying eggs, but if the vent is elongated (like a slot) this means she will lay eggs.
  • The vent should be nice and clean.
  • If the vent is dirty your hen may have an upset tummy or an infection.

The Crop 

  • This is your hen’s ‘shopping basket’ where she gathers food to be ground down and passed through to her stomach.
  • The crop is at the bottom of her neck. It should fill up when she eats and slowly deflate as she passes the food through to her stomach.
  • The crop shouldn’t be too packed solid with food (that’s a sign of an impacted crop) or full of fluid (that’s a symptom of sour crop).

The Abdomen 

  • The abdomen area should be rounded and soft, but not feel unusually large.
  • If the abdomen is swollen and your hen’s legs are slightly splayed feel if the abdomen area is hard and solid or soft and full of fluid.
  • A hard, solid abdomen is a sign of egg peritonitis
  • A soft abdomen can be a sign of ascites (fluid build-up).

Hen houses

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Your chicken's diet

Find out what to feed your chickens to keep them happy and healthy. 

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Getting chickens

Find out more about rehoming chickens and buying fancy breed hens. 

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